Lack of moral leadership bedevils SA

Thabo Mbeki

I have prepared this lecture deeply troubled by a feeling of great unease that our beloved motherland is losing its sense of direction.

SHOULDERS OF A GIANT: Unless South Africa produces other leaders and cadres of the calibre of Oliver Tambo ( October 27, 1917 -- April 23, 1993), it is almost inevitable that the national democratic revolution will fail, says Thabo Mbeki. Credit: INLSA

Today, I, for one, am not certain about where our country and nation will be tomorrow, and what I should do in this regard, to respond to what is obviously a dangerous and unacceptable situation.

That feeling of unease is informed by questions I have not been able to answer about what happened which allowed the eminently avoidable massacre at the Lonmin Marikana mine in the North West province to happen.

My feeling of unease is also informed by what I sense is a pervasive understanding throughout the nation that there is no certainty about our future with regard to any of our known challenges, and therefore the future of the nation.

This is underlined by a troubled sentiment among many families in our country about whether their children can expect a future better, contrary to the travails the parents of these young people had to endure.

My sense of unease is also informed by the fears I know are shared by many throughout our continent, rightly or wrongly, that they face the threat that because of our internal conflicts, our country could lose its ability to defend its possibility to be an exemplar of resolute African independence, self-determination and African pride, as did Ethiopia during an earlier period of Africa’s struggle for emancipation.

I know that what I have just said might not sit easily in the minds and hearts of some circles here at home and abroad, which I would understand.

However, I also know this as a matter of fact that it will not be possible to correct whatever might have gone wrong, and therefore address our challenges in this regard, unless all of us have the honesty and courage publicly to state what we believe is true.

Equally, of course, we must be ready to accept such criticism as might result from everything we say, ready to engage in any consequent open debate – thus to engage in the processes for which I have consistently urged, borrowing on the task the great Chinese people set themselves – to let a hundred flowers bloom, and a hundred schools of thought contend!

Obviously, such an intellectual contest would have to be based on the firm understanding that those who control the levers of state power would not misuse such control to stifle or suppress any opinion, regardless of its content, and would also not remain silent when others wilfully and recklessly abuse their right to freedom of thought and speech.

By definition, and inevitably, revolution means that there must take place a titanic struggle for victory over each other and one another, between and among the forces representing the new, and the forces seeking to preserve the old order.

Very often, these forces, the old and the new, enter into unavoidable compromises which throw up their own challenges.

In this regard I would like to quote a famous paragraph in a book by the eminent revolutionary, Karl Marx, which explains some of the dialectical relationship between the new and the old.

In his Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx said: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionising themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolu- tionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service…”

As they engaged in protracted struggle to make their own history, the masses of our people, who sacrificed everything for the victory of the first strategic objective of the national democratic revolution (NDR), achieved this objective under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.

The political compromise of 1994 was born of this concrete and historical reality, in which “men do not make history as they please”.

In this regard the NDR entered into agreements during the 1990-1994 negotiations taking into account the conditions which Marx described as not being its “self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”

You will have heard the regular refrain repeated constantly by influential voices in our county and abroad, including through our domestic media, that Oliver Tambo’s movement, the African National Congress, after 18 years as our country’s ruling party, has no right to blame our current reality on our colonial and apartheid past.

This assertion seeks to advance the self-serving political proposition that the 1994 political victory wiped our country’s colonial and apartheid

slate clean.

In this respect I can refer to countless occasions when, in the past, I said that the central and immediate task of the national democratic revolution after the political victory of 1994 was to dismantle the legacy of colonialism and apartheid. This evoked major opposition, on the basis of the strange and false argument that the apartheid legacy died in 1994.

What is this colonial and apartheid heritage? Among others, colonialism and apartheid have meant that democratic South Africa has inherited:

The imperialist and colonial reality was accompanied and sustained by forcible and exclusive white minority rule.

From the time of its foundation, the ANC set itself the task to end colonial and white minority rule in our country, and indeed our region, therefore to transform South Africa into a non-racial democracy.

It would therefore be correct to say that this was the first strategic task of the national democratic revolution, which the ANC pursued up to the historic political victory of 1994.

I would insist that the second strategic task of the national democratic revolution in our country, consequent upon the political victory of 1994, is the eradication of the legacy of colonialism and apartheid.

I would also insist that the third strategic task of our revolution is the entrenchment of a national democratic society, focused on ensuring the permanence of the genuinely democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous society visualised in our constitution, which would define the long-term character of South Africa, as a truly egalitarian society.

Earlier I referred to the historic challenge that faces all revolutionaries to fight for the revolutionary transformation of society, to create a new social order which would benefit the ordinary masses in all these societies.

That challenge of revolutionary transformation has faced and will face the NDR as it has and will confront all three of the strategic tasks I have mentioned.

nless we produce other leaders and cadres of the calibre of Oliver Tambo, it is almost inevitable that the national democratic revolution will fail.

We must therefore ask ourselves the difficult questions:

I must accept that during the years when I served in the leadership of the ANC, we failed to achieve the objective of sustaining the calibre of a membership made up of politically mature and committed cadres.

The real and hard truth is that, in this regard, the current leadership of the ANC and the broad democratic movement, at all levels, have inherited this failure, which lies at the base of much that is going wrong in our country.

Essentially this boils down to two major tasks:

We have an obligation to ensure that our continuing national democratic revolution and struggle are led by people who:

can think of no better response to these historic challenges, to guarantee our victory over human deprivation and the dehumanisation of the African, than to do what we must, to emulate the example that Oliver Tambo set, which helped to define what the ANC must be.